Image Atlas – Aaron Swartz

This week, during my usual random search for creative things that encourage a pinch of procrastination during the busy working day, I came across ‘Image Atlas’ by Aaron Swartz.

I’ve updated this post since I originally posted it on 18 January 2013 as I very shockingly discovered that Aaron recently took his own life on 11 January 2013. He was facing legal charges and cases left, right and centre for openly sharing the work of JSTOR and the MIT press for free, amongst others, whilst battling with on-going depression. These twinned battles affect so many people on a daily basis, especially as regards freedom of speech, that many of us take for granted every single day. So this post is dedicated to those in the fight, may I send you strength. You are in my thoughts. In memory of Aaron…may your knowledge, work, and legacy will live on.

Aaron was invited by New Museum‘s curator Lauren Cornell to take part in Rhizome.org’s ‘Seven on Seven’ event at the New Museum, which pairs technologists with contemporary artists to brainstorm productive collaborations. A video of his involvement is shown below. Out of this event, Aaron constructed the prototype for ‘Image Atlas’, a website that ‘runs simultaneous searches on locally preferred engines in a variety of nations around the world, then displaying the results side by side. Thus, you can compare what images represent “freedom,” or “death,” or “America” in different countries. It is a simple and surprisingly effective device to make the point of how our local contexts shape our view of the world.’ Clever, simple and very eye opening, especially with more socio-historic and politically weighted words and terminologies.

“It represents incredibly important values and goals that are urgent in our time.” – Lauren Cornell

What word to search first? Well, you can’t help but search for yourself right? Just like Aaron did below. My name “Rachel Marsden”…and surprise, surprise what does it come up with? Mostly images of Rachel Marsden the American journalist along side some food…we’ve been here before, seen her face before, and her face gets EVERYWHERE as she’s a little controversial in the USA and also had a tempestuous relationship with an ex-boyfriend selling all his clothes on eBay when they broke up (I think via text message)…I got a lot of web hits when that was going on! It’s different if you search “Rachel Marsden UK” then my face does actually appear. Anyway, as for more realistic searches…China proved interesting…from France showing images of porcelain, to India showing images of weapons of mass destruction, and North Korea images of East Asian political leaders…transcultural was another key one represented by China as bridges over vasts amount of water…then all the PhD terminologies came out to play. In some respects, this could actually be another PhD visualisation tool. More stupid words and thoughts were searched…but I won’t actually mention them here for fear of seeming a little bit childish.

So if you have a spare few minutes today (which some of you might seeing as a lot of people have a snow day today…yes!) have a play with this visual tool and let me know what you find, more so, tell me what you see. Go on…go and procrastinate…

Image Atlas Aaron Swartz

Rachel Marsden Image Atlas

China Image Atlas

transcultural Image Atlas

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